Thanks to fall’s popular Oktoberfest lagers and pumpkin ales, happy hour gets a little heartier this season.
Certified cicerone and CraftBeer.com writer Andy Sparhawk says it’s the sentiment behind the drink that’s kept seasonal blends alive.
“You could make a citrus IPA in the middle of winter regardless of whether there’s fresh fruit or not,” he says. “But I do think that connection to seasonality and the feeling that a (fall) beer gives to the consumer will make sure brewers are going back to those classic, seasonal flavors and aromas.”
Although a bevy of different tastes are bottled each autumn — Sparhawk notes nutmeg, chocolate and roasted barley as favorites — some of the most popular fall varieties include Oktoberfest, pumpkin and beer made with freshly harvested hops. The pumpkin-flavored brews have become a trendy pick for connoisseurs, and despite their “hate to love, love to hate” reputation as the pumpkin spice latte of beers, their popularity hasn’t tapered. Cliche or not, there’s a real demand.
Self-proclaimed “beer geek” Billy Glosson of the Craft Beer Cellar says the demand for seasonal brews starts around Sept. 1. Although Oktoberfest interest tends to drop off following Halloween, pumpkin ales remain a crowd-pleaser through November. Glosson names Crown Valley’s Imperial Pumpkin Smash, O’Fallon’s pumpkin beer and Schlafly pumpkin ale as front-runners.
The extensive fall selection at International Tap House comes in draft and bottled choices. General Manager Jon Plawsky recommends the bar’s passport program, which allows beer buffs to track what they’ve tried and earn milestone incentives along the way, as a great chance to dabble in different autumn blends. Plawsky says iTap’s selection includes at least one pumpkin beer and a couple of Oktoberfest options.
The in-house brews at Flat Branch Pub and Brewing are another exciting addition to the seasonal rotation and a great alternative for those who fall on the “love to hate” end of the pumpkin beer spectrum. Flat Branch Brewmaster Kyle Butusov suggests the brewery’s Copper Ale with toasted bread and biscuit flavors as a departure from sweeter spices.
Bur Oak Brewing Co. is introducing rookie Tractor Fire, a spicy brown ale, this season, and old favorite Clyde’s Caramel Cream Ale is back on the shelves. Charmingly named after the Bur Oak brewery cat, Clyde’s is a sweet and mild beer with hints of vanilla and caramel.
For Logboat Brewing Co., 2017 marks a surprising first as the company celebrates its inaugural Oktoberfest. “We’ve always liked the style; we’ve always wanted to (brew it); we just haven’t had the capacity to,” says Judson Ball, Logboat’s marketing and brand strategist. Logboat’s Oktoberfest lager, Knot Hole, joins additional newbie Amarillo by Morning, a single-hopped pale ale and longtime favorite wheat porter Dark Matter in the season’s lineup.
During fall, “beers get darker, people start drinking more stouts ... so it’s kind of a fun time,” Plawsky says.